Clayton Kershaw knows this feeling all too well: Sailing toward a possible fourth Cy Young Award, eyes on a World Series appearance for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then, suddenly, a twinge in his lower back.
That twinge first came in June 2016, when a herniated disc cost him 10 weeks of the season and nearly knocked him out of the playoffs.
Sunday, while warming up for the second inning of his start against the Atlanta Braves, it returned: Pain in his lower back, a trip to the clubhouse, examinations ahead.
And suddenly, this Dodgers season that was headed for a 100-win coronation has sailed into the great unknown.
“Obviously, I’m not optimistic because I got taken out of the game,” Kershaw said after the Dodgers’ 5-4, 10-inning victory. “At the same time, some of the symptoms aren’t as bad as they could be.
“A lot of frustration. I’ve done countless hours of back maintenance and rehab just trying to stay healthy and felt really really good up to this point.”
Kershaw was visited by a trainer and manager Dave Roberts during the top of the second. He completed the inning, then exited the dugout to the Dodger Stadium clubhouse.
Kershaw entered Sunday leading the National League in wins (15), ERA (2.07), innings pitched (139 1/3) and ERA-plus (202).
In 2016, Kershaw managed to avoid back surgery, using epidural injections and rehab to treat his herniated disc. He was injured on June 26 and set to return less than a month later, but suffered a setback.
Kershaw eventually returned on Sept. 9, just enough of a window to rebuild arm strength and pitch for the Dodgers in the playoffs.
The Dodgers likely won’t need much more from him to put the NL West on ice. They are now a major league best 68-31, thanks to a recent 31-4 stretch, and hold a 10 1/2-game lead on the Colorado Rockies.
Already, they were interested in enhancing the starting rotation for the playoffs. Kershaw’s injury could potentially stoke that motivation.